By Dani Moritz-Long
Growing up in Pennsylvania, Donna Kimmeth, now Valencia’s coordinator of deaf and hard of hearing interpretation, always expressed an interest in education — so much so that when she wasn’t spending time in the actual classroom, you could often find her (sometimes forcibly) rallying her neighborhood peers for play-school sessions after class and on weekends. (Donna, of course, always played the teacher.)
“I look back and it’s a wonder that I had any friends back then,” she laughed, reminiscing about her childhood.
One would think — quite reasonably — that Donna’s persistent passion for education would have led her directly into a career in academia. Oddly enough, however, it did not. After attending Pennsylvania State University, Donna’s first career was spent in marketing and product development. After the 2008 economic crash left her company of employment closed, however, Donna reevaluated her situation and whether her current career was the best for her.
“Jobs were hard to find then and I did a lot of soul searching,” she said. “I had always thought about getting into human resources. I decided to come back to Valencia in 2010 (I had been a student long before then) to study human resources management, and I actually was offered a work study and that’s how I landed in the Office of Students With Disabilities. I absolutely loved it from the start.”
Impassioned by Valencia’s learning-centered mission, Donna found she was exactly where she belonged. After completing her work study, she was hired as a part-time C-Print captionist (someone who captions lectures and student activities for hard of hearing students not fluent in American Sign Language [ASL]) and then as a staff assistant II, before she started her role as coordinator approximately two years ago.
In her current role, Donna continues her work as a captionist on an as-needed basis and coordinates staff and approximately 40 collegewide students to ensure all of Valencia’s deaf and hard of hearing students receive the help they need — whether that’s C-Print captioning or ASL interpreting. These staff members also extend beyond the classroom, as interpreters and captionists are also deployed at Student Development events and Arts and Entertainment events, like the four major theater productions held each year.
“It’s important to me that our deaf and hard of hearing students have the same experience in the classroom that our hearing students do,” she said. “It’s very important to me that I know we’re putting strong, capable service providers in the classroom.”
Fortunately, she said, Valencia works with a knowledgeable and compassionate group of interpreters, captionists and faculty members who make that vision a reality and equalize the playing field for all Valencia students, regardless of special needs.
Beyond her role facilitating these efforts, Donna also partners with the Valencia Foundation to coordinate scholarships given to students with disabilities — a job function not even in her job description.
“When Elvin Cruz-Vargas, coordinator, scholarships and special projects, told us that Foundation scholarships were going un-awarded because the Foundation couldn’t know if the student had a disability or not, Donna was quick to volunteer,” explained Director of Students with Disabilities Deborah Larew. “She formed committees among all the ‘volunteers’ in our office, who tirelessly reviewed applications and made recommendations.”
Donna, of course, is simply happy to play her part in benefiting students.
“It’s very exciting to see scholarships go to students who come through our office,” she said.
In her free time, you can find Donna enjoying time with her grandchildren, whose ages range from 2-years-old to 13-years-old, at Disney parks and Fun Spot or enjoying some quiet time reading mystery novels.
Know of someone who embodies one of Valencia’s Values (learning, people, diversity, access or integrity), who has been an employee for one year or more? Send the colleague’s name to us at The_Grove@valenciacollege.edu. He or she might be one of our featured colleagues, subject to supervisor’s approval.